ICANN to investigate .sucks registry over eye-watering fees

Article  \  20 Apr 2015

Brand owners, many of whom have registered their trade marks with the Trademark Clearinghouse to get first dibs on new gTLD domains during Sunrise Periods, are being charged a hefty premium by the '.sucks' registry.

In the last year, most new domain name registries that have opened gTLDs (eg, .network, .business) have charged trade mark owners a couple of hundred dollars to apply for domains matching their trade marks during Sunrise Periods. To apply during any registry's Sunrise Period you must first have registered your trade mark with the Trademark Clearinghouse. But for those who apply during the .sucks Sunrise, or have trade marks on the .sucks registry's 'premium' list, the fees for a matching .sucks domain start at more than US$2000.

ICANN to launch investigation

The BBC reports that ICANN is concerned at the price levels that the Canadian company operating the .sucks registry has set. A spokesperson for Domain Incite, a news blog about the domain industry, told the BBC two key elements of the way Vox Populi (the registry) was handling the sale were causing concern. One element was the $2,000 'sunrise' premium being charged to those wishing to register '.sucks' addresses early. The other being that a premium is also being charged for words or names that have been defensively registered in the past. The registry indicates it will charge a similarly hefty price to renew .sucks domains in future.

Domain Incite reports the .sucks registry has placed thousands of trade marks on permanent, high-priced 'sunrise premium', meaning they may not come down in price, ever.

ICANN has told Domain Incite it is currently in 'fact-finding' mode to see whether the registry has breached any terms of its agreement by charging these premiums.

Risk of waiting until after the Sunrise Period

After the Sunrise Period, many .sucks domains are expected to sell on a first-come first-served basis for a much cheaper price, about US$249.

Brand owners may wish to wait until the Sunrise Period ends and try to snap up their .sucks domains without paying the premium, but they run the risk of someone else getting in first. This could make it difficult to prevent the domain from being used as a forum to criticise that brand.

Controversially, the registry proposes allowing third parties who have no affiliation to a brand owner to apply to the registry for a 'consumer advocate subsidy', which will bring the price of a .sucks domain down to US$9.95 per year if the applicant agrees to direct their domains to a discussion forum called everything.sucks. In this way the registry appears to be encouraging the sale of .sucks domains to third parties, at the expense of trade mark owners.

Sunrise Period for .sucks closes 29 May

The .sucks extension sunrise period opened on 30 March 2015 and closes on 29 May 2015. General availability starts 1 June 2015.

Brand owners should consider whether they want to try and register .sucks domains for their brands, and if so, how much they are willing to pay for them.